by Michael Grossberg
All that the black women want to do is eat at an Atlanta department-store restaurant.
But the year is 1964, the risks are real and the outcome is uncertain as they strive to test a Supreme Court decision upholding the recently passed Civil Rights Act in “Waiting to Be Invited.”
PAST Productions Columbus and Red Herring Productions are co-producing the Columbus premiere of S.M. Shephard-Massat’s civil rights drama, which opens Friday at the Franklinton Playhouse.
First staged in 2000 by the Denver Center Theatre Company, the two-act, two-hour play received the Kennedy Center Roger L. Stevens Award for New Playwrights and the American Theatre Critics Association’s 2001 M. Elizabeth Osborn Award for an emerging playwright.
“This play is inspirational and also comedic because it’s real people,” director Patricia Wallace-Winbush said.
“When people think of the civil rights movement, they only think of Martin Luther King Jr. ...the big names. But it’s the little people who risked their lives — marched, voted, or sat in at a restaurant.”
Three women, co-workers at a doll factory, decide to travel by city bus to a “whites-only” restaurant inside an Atlanta department store to see whether the management will respect the court decision outlawing segregation in eating establishments.
“These characters were not waiting to be invited and weren’t sitting around to see what would happen,” Wallace-Winbush said.
Georgia playwright Shephard-Massat based her play on a proud moment in her grandmother’s life.
“She and her friends actually did this to try out the new Civil Rights Act and have lunch at a department-store restaurant,” Wallace-Winbush said. “That was the era when you got dressed up with summer whites, gloves and purses to go downtown just to shop.”
Demia Kandi plays Ms. Louise.
“Compassionate and hopeful, Louise is a hard worker who believes in the good of people,” Kandi said. “She’s the one who gets the women together on a metaphoric journey to actually exercise their civil rights. These are strong women doing something very brave.”
On the bus, the women feel excitement and anxiety.
“When the women get nervous, Louise is the one who keeps everyone on track despite the trepidation,” Kandi said. “You get to see the complexity of the characters and the humor that comes from their personalities. It’s a journey of emotion, too.”
Julie Whitney-Scott plays Ms. Odessa.
“She’s a hard worker, fiery and independent, who doesn’t feel like she has to cower down or be fearful of speaking out,” Whitney-Scott said. “She feels like they have to take a stand because she’s sick and tired of what’s been going on.”
Ms. Odessa has a volatile relationship with Ms. Ruth (Cathy Bean), a pastor’s wife who shows up belatedly at the department store.
“It’s back and forth, with Ruth fearful to participate and Odessa spurring her on,” Whitney-Scott said.
Although the play’s subject is serious, Whitney-Scott appreciates its comic elements.
“Odessa inadvertently brings humor to all situations,” she said. “This is one of those plays that uses humor to ease the tense situations of that era and to show the relationship between the women.”
Wallace-Winbush plays Ms. Delores.
“Very much a follower, she’s the most delicate and trusting of the ladies,” she said.
“If you think of the ladies as a 1960s version of ‘The Golden Girls,’ then Delores would be like Betty White’s Rose. ...She believes that now they have the same rights as anyone else. She doesn’t realize that it will take time and changing of hearts for the new civil rights era to become a reality.”